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London's Architecture

December 20, 1987

Sam Hall Kaplan's impression of British architecture is misguided. It was not American influence but a European one that gave London much of its present architecture.

The National Westminster Tower (Richard Seifert, c.1980), the London Hilton (Lewis Solomon, 1961) and any number of other tower blocks, such as the eponymous London Wall (L.C.C. Architects, 1955, etc.) owe their development to the influence of the German architect Mies van der Rohe, who designed similar tower blocks as early as 1922, long before he moved to the United States.

Le Corbusier, not Schindler, is also the influence behind Max Fry's Sun House of 1935--consider Le Corbusier's innovative Maison Citrohan of 1922--and it would be fair to say that Schindler (an Austrian emigrant) was working under the influence of his European masters.

The one obvious American influence in the buildings that Mr. Kaplan describes goes ignored or unrecognized. Mr. Kaplan describes and illustrates Richard Rogers' glistening new building for Lloyd's of London, but only relates it to that architect's earlier Pompidou Center in Paris. Anyone who has seen Southern California Edison Co.'s massive buildings at the Huntington Beach Generating Station cannot fail to make the connection to the Pompidou Center and thus to Lloyd's.

James Stirling's early work also comes under this sphere of influence (Engineering Building, Leicester University, 1963) but in more recent years, his work has become mannered and a little soft. This, Mr. Kaplan recognized in his discussion of the new Clore Gallery at the Tate Museum.

Now this, again, might be the influence of American Post-Modernism, for whose popularity we must thank a London- and Los Angeles-based American, Charles Jencks.

It is the apparent lack of critical edge in some of his writings which has landed London with what must be one of its most insipid buildings for years, American architect Robert Venturi's National Gallery addition on Trafalgar Square. We can only regret that another American influence was not brought to bear and that Richard Roger's plans for this same addition were not adopted. The architectural profession would have had it that way.

NEIL JACKSON

Department of Architecture

Cal Poly Pomona

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